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Buffalo Looks to Improve, Protect Ralph Wilson Park

Thu May 02, 2024 - Northeast Edition #10
Chuck MacDonald – CEG CORRESPONDENT


The east breakwater is nearly complete. The breakwater will quiet the power of future storms and create a calm inlet.
Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone
The east breakwater is nearly complete. The breakwater will quiet the power of future storms and create a calm inlet.
The east breakwater is nearly complete. The breakwater will quiet the power of future storms and create a calm inlet.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone) Excavated and removed trees will eventually serve as a nesting place for birds.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone) Operator’s eye view of rock placement, guided by GPS. This enhancement will ensure each layer of stone will be installed according to the exact elevations and boundary shown on drawings.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone) Workers are using the massive Cat MH390F 100-ton material handler, complete with orange peel grapple, to place the boulders in the appropriate position.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone) The construction team is taking extreme efforts to mitigate the effects of some crushing storms and rising water levels that have inflicted damage to the park site over the years.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone) Tons of rock are still being delivered to the park, inspected, then placed via a gigantic Cat MH390F 100-ton material handler.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone) Construction will be done in multiple phases and also will open in multiple phases beginning in late 2025.   (Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone)

The confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Erie produces stunning views and great water access at the former La Salle Park in Buffalo, now named Ralph Wilson Park. Unfortunately, powerful storms in the past have lashed the waterfront causing damage and flooding. The park has deteriorated and become less inviting.

The park is undergoing a rebirth through the efforts of the city of Buffalo, Buffalo Urban Development Agency and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. The city of Buffalo is teaming up with renowned design team Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and construction giant Gilbane to build the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park on the site of LaSalle Park.

The park will encompass slightly more than 100 acres. The initial estimated cost was $110 million in 2018, though costs have risen since then. The initial funding has come from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Wilson was the original owner of the Buffalo Bills and is a beloved figure in the community. The project was announced in 2018 on what would have been Wilson's 100th birthday.

Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone

The park is located in an underserved community and is visible from I-I90 and some 90,000 vehicles per day.

Construction will be done in multiple phases and also will open in multiple phases beginning in 2026. The park will have a pedestrian bridge and improved green space to connect the Lower West Side of Buffalo to the park.

The most daunting part of the project will be to mitigate the effects of some crushing storms and rising water levels that have inflicted damage to the park site over the years.

"This is going to be a world-class park and will greatly benefit the people of Buffalo," said Katie Campos, executive director of the Ralph C. Wilson Park Conservancy. "The community has been quite involved and has met for more than two years with the park designer, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The process of rebuilding the shoreline will protect the park and will contribute to the restoration of the Great Lakes."

Ralph Wilson Park will continue to be a city of Buffalo Park, and the city will provide basic maintenance. Once the park is complete, The Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy will manage and operate the park, providing enhanced maintenance.

Park planners, landscape designers and the construction team have set their sights high for what will be a challenging construction job. The consortium hopes to create an urban park that can absorb the impact of heavy weather. Project planners hope to even improve the water quality and provide protected marshes and ponds that will create a protected inlet where fish and wildlife can be restored. The park team envisions an area where in the future anglers can fish for trout, kayakers can enjoy the water and locals can lounge for picnics.

The completed park will embrace diverse elements sure to attract people from a variety of interests including multiuse paths, hills for winter sledding, sports fields, a skateboard park, playgrounds and areas for water play for children. The park also will display children's artwork as a decorative element.

Gilbane is leading the construction team that will make some of these cutting-edge ideas a reality. The shoreline design goals will be for structural resiliency, flood protection, ecological uplift and an enhanced park experience.

A key component of this task will be for Gilbane and the construction team to build an armored edge to the shoreline.

Tons of rock are being delivered to the park, inspected, then placed via a gigantic material handler. The equipment was delivered by multiple flat beds in pieces, then assembled on site. The machine is so large that a crane was needed to assemble the pieces.

Mark Cerrone is the trade contractor of the first phase of the build-out of the project, which is approximately 20 percent complete. Workers are using the massive, 100-ton machine, complete with orange peel grapple, to place the boulders in the appropriate position.

Tom Johnston, Greg Bostard, John Toscano and George Churakos are supervising the project for Mark Cerrone. "We are using the material handler to place the boulders on the shoreline guided by GPS," said Johnston. "The boulders range in size from 6 tons to 1 ton."

Not just any rock will do for this project.

"The stones are armor IF and must be at least 18 inches across on each side," said Johnston. "The rock must be blocky with the longest side parallel to the shore and ‘tucked in' so they fit tightly with the other rocks. Each stone must have three points of contact with other stones."

The park used to be simply a large, flat grassy area with just a straight concrete wall to protect against the water. A person could stand on one side and see to the other side.

That will no longer be possible with the new park as the workers and their machinery will dramatically alter the topography.

"Our team will change the concrete wall into a sweeping, meandering revetment structure to protect the shoreline," said Bostard. Revetment is a coastal engineering process of building a wall to absorb the brunt of incoming water and prevent erosion.

"The stone revetment will have an aesthetic effect, but design of the revetment will hold up against the elements. The work will include thousands of feet of pipe, new manholes and catch basins for the storm water."

Photo courtesy of Mark Cerrone

The construction team will use cut-and-fill efforts to relocate dirt and rock as part of a system to transform the current flat topography of the site. The team also is building a 30-ft. sledding hill. This is part of the effort to make the park attractive to the public in all four seasons.

Workers will use excavators to scoop out 39,000 cu. yds. of material to create a lagoon. The lagoon will be a haven for aquatic life and also create another buffer to absorb water from storms.

One of the highlights so far has been the work of building an east-west breakwater.

"This portion of the project will take the place of the existing bulkhead on the shore," said Bostard. "This breakwater will protect the inlet from high winds and water to keep the inlet calm. We are also installing a fish culvert that will allow fish to come under the breakwater.

In addition to the three material handlers, the team will be using excavators, dozers and graders to shape the land into final form. Paving and concrete work will come later in the construction process.

Later construction phases will include building a kayak launch and a pedestrian bridge for people to enter the park over a busy road. Construction teams also will be building roads, shared-use paths and sports fields. The city of Buffalo, the design team and Gilbane have set their sights on creating a world-class park. The team's work will encompass a reconfigured shoreline, including rocky reinforcements, a breakwater and lagoon. Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park is on its way to fulfilling that vision. CEG


Chuck MacDonald

Chuck MacDonald is an editor, blogger and freelance feature writer whose writing adventures have taken him to 48 states and 10 countries. He has been the editor for magazines on pavement construction, chemicals, insurance and missions. Chuck enjoys bicycling, kayaking and reading. He graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. Chuck lives in Annapolis, Md. with his wife Kristen. They have seven grandchildren.


Read more from Chuck MacDonald here.





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